REVIEW: Jumbled second half damages derivative ‘Don’t Worry Darling’

After helming the teen comedy “Booksmart” in her directorial debut, Olivia Wilde took a leap to the thriller genre in her sophomore effort.

While some of “Don’t Worry Darling” is effective, though, Wilde’s latest film doesn’t stick the landing very well.

Florence Pugh stars as Alice, a 1950s housewife who lives with her husband Jack (Harry Styles) in a small town in the southwestern United States. The town has been set up for workers who seem to work at a secretive government facility, and their families.

Alice and Jack have a comfortable life, with plenty of amenities and luxury to enjoy. Everything seems great, but Alice begins to notice some strange happenings and struggles with the restrictions around town, leading to a mystery unraveling.

“Don’t Worry Darling” is one of those films reminiscent of a “Twilight Zone” episode, where a character is in a suspicious or suspenseful situation, and there’s an ever-present subtext creating a social commentary. In Wilde’s film, the latter is crystal clear and effective.

Similar to 1998’s “Pleasantville,” “Darling” shows the 1950s world where, on the surface, everything looks rosy and perfect, but underneath, it’s controlling, passionless and repetitive, especially for women. The film also notes how the men in the film are quite happy with the status quo, and will work to make sure things stay the way they are.

The film satirizes the idea of the traditional, 50s housewife who’s more than happy to do nothing but cook and clean at home nicely. It also connects sexist and misogynistic attitudes of that era to the types of things men are saying today about women.

While the film’s commentary earns it points, though, other aspects end up dragging this flick down. “Pleasantville” and “The Twilight Zone” have already been mentioned, but the similarities don’t end there. “Don’t Worry Darling” also clearly drew from “The Stepford Wives,” and several other science fiction films that play with a character’s reality.

DontWorryDarBlog2
Courtesy Warner Bros.

With the film being so derivative, an audience can catch on to the fact that something is up with this situation and anticipation naturally builds until the big reveal happens. When the other shoe does drop, that reveal needs to be shocking, gripping and lead to exciting developments.

What is revealed in “Don’t Worry Darling” is fairly interesting, despite not being entirely original. However, Wilde doesn’t do all that much with it.

The third act of “Darling” is rather underdeveloped, as the full scope of what’s going on isn’t completely explored. Making matters worse, not much is done with what is  shared with the audience so the experience isn’t all that exciting. A viewer goes along with where the movie is leading them, and the destination is a let down.

It also doesn’t help that Harry Styles, one of the lead actors, isn’t quite up to the task of making Jack a fully fleshed out character. Styles’ stilted acting makes Jack seem too artificial, a perfect husband caricature, without any nuance. It’s a far cry from, say, Allison Williams’ performance as the girlfriend in “Get Out.”

Fortunately, Oscar-nominee Florence Pugh puts a lot of the movie on her back and carries it. She gives a memorable performance, capturing the growing distrust and anger her character is feeling as the film goes on.

Pugh’s work, the film’s commentary, as well as its strong set and costume design, gives “Don’t Worry Darling” some positives, as that 50s aesthetic is on display. However, none of that salvages what’s ultimately a disappointment. 2.25 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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